Saturday, August 29, 2009

I Got Melba

Melba Moore first hit the Broadway scene as Dionne in the original cast of Hair. During her run in the show, she would also become the understudy for and eventually assume the lead role of Sheila. However, it was the musical Purlie which gave Moore what probably her greatest success onstage. Purlie was a musical adaptation of Ossie Davis' racial satire Purlie Victorious about a black preacher who goes head to head with an old racist landowner. Cleavon Little was Purlie, and the cast consisted of Linda Hopkins, Sherman Hemlsey (it was his appearance in this role that got him noticed by Norman Lear to play George Jefferson) and Helen Martin. Director-choreographer George Faison was in the ensemble.

As Purlie's sweetheart Lutiebelle, Melba made a huge impression on audiences, often stopping the show with her first act delivery of the title song. The authors and directors sensing they had a tremendous performance on their hands immediately went to work writing another number for her. The song was "I Got Love" and if "Purlie" had stopped the show, this new song practically flattened the theatre. Moore won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, besting Penny Fuller and Bonnie Franklin in Applause and Melissa Hart in the 4 performance flop Georgy.

There was a TV production of Purlie that aired in 1981 starring Robert Guillaume, who had replaced Cleavon Little in the original production and had become a star with his portrayal of the title role on Benson. This version made its way to VHS in the late 80s, but has yet to have a DVD release. Here is Melba Moore delivering the title song from the TV version:

Here's a TV performance of "I Got Love"

Now for the random/bizarre entry. This is a television performance from 1980 The Beatrice Arthur Special. Bea is leading a revival (under the name Sistah Luv) with Rock Hudson, Melba with "Madame" on the organ. It has to be seen to be believed:

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